This time a year ago, Jerome Hunter was beginning what his high school coach calls a “monster offseason.” In the process, the Pickerington North standout played himself into multiple scholarship offers, including from Ohio State.

Now as he prepares for his final summer of AAU basketball and his senior season, Hunter has established himself as one of the top prospects from Ohio in his class and a key target for the Buckeyes.

“He just matured from his sophomore year to his junior year,” coach Jason Bates said. “That’s what we saw in him as a player. He wanted to take the tough shots. He wanted to be at the free-throw line to win the game. He wanted to be the leader on the court, and as he had success with it his confidence just continued to grow and grow.”

ESPN, Scout, 247Sports and Rivals rank Hunter as a four-star prospect. The three sites that rank players by state — all but Scout — list him as the No. 4 prospect from Ohio. With those rankings have come plenty of college coaches — so many that Hunter said he’s not sure the number that watched him play last season.

He’s known to have more than a dozen offers, including from Michigan, Pittsburgh, Butler and Dayton. Most recently, Illinois and North Carolina State have followed suit.

“I’m very open right now and I don’t really have a time period when I’m going to narrow down my decisions,” Hunter said. “(I’m looking for a school with good) academics, coaching style, players they’ve got coming in, style of play, stuff like that.”

Bates said Hunter has grown more accustomed to the attention in time but that the off-the-court spotlight hasn’t been something the senior-to-be has coveted. The two talk daily, he said, about everything from recruiting to schoolwork.

Now they can even joke about the first time Ohio State coach Thad Matta came to watch Hunter play.

“He’s gotten a lot better with coaches, not being nervous or even playing in front of coaches,” Bates said. “As a sophomore, Thad came to watch him and he played one of his worst games. He was just young. There’s a maturity factor that wasn’t here yet, and now as a junior, he’s been so much more able to deal with the pressure and not let it affect him.”

Said Hunter: “It was a real bad game. I couldn’t score or do anything. I think I was nervous that he was there, but I’m used to it now.”

In addition to being one of the first schools to offer Hunter, Ohio State has continued to recruit him even as it looked like there wasn’t a spot in the class of 2018. Last week, the Buckeyes lost a commitment from Cincinnati Princeton small forward Darius Bazley, who is listed as the state’s top prospect by ESPN. Two commitments remain: Upper Arlington guard Dane Goodwin and Versailles small forward Justin Ahrens.

There have been some ebbs and flows, but Ohio State has kept the communication open even after Bazley committed last summer.

“Ohio State has been pretty consistent,” Bates said. “They were heavy at times and not heavy at times, but they were there the whole time. Jerome has a great relationship with coach (Dave) Dickerson. They know the family well, and Jerome is getting more and more familiar with Ohio State’s coaching staff. That’s the most important thing right now is him getting familiar with everybody that’s recruiting him because it’s going to be a major and very important decision in his life.”

Hunter said Bazley’s comments about Ohio State not being able to put him in position to reach the NBA had no effect on his thoughts about the program. His only focus now is on what lies ahead.

“I just want to win games and get better,” he said.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy